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Is the M1 Carbine a Good Self Defense Rifle?

The AR-15 is America's rifle with good reason, especially for self defense, but don't discount the M1 Carbine as a unique defensive rifle option.

Is the M1 Carbine a Good Self Defense Rifle?

When it comes to personal protection, sometimes being low profile is the better course of action and the M1 Carbine is an effective discreet alternative to an AR-15. (Photo by Ashley Jaderborg)

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Before there was the AR-15 there was the M1 Carbine. When I was in high school and college the M1 Carbine was the most popular self-defense carbine among the shooters I knew. In the 1960s, the DCM/CMP had sold surplus carbines for $17.50 plus $2.50 shipping via Railway Express. That’s equivalent to about $222.00 today. Since 1968 around 600,000 M1 Carbines have been sold by the CMP. Also available were copies of the military M1 carbine from Universal for $89.95 in the 1965 Shooter’s Bible I purchased in college and still consult. Colt started selling AR-15s in 1964, but they didn’t really become popular until returning Vietnam veterans wanted a civilian version of the rifle with which they had gone to war. I can’t remember when I got my first surplus M1 Carbine but it was around 1970. With a couple of gaps I’ve owned one ever since.

m1-carbine-defense-02
The M1A1 Carbine with stock folded; this example was refurbished after World War II. While not a great design for shoot- ing it does reduce overall length. (Ken Macswan photo)

Let me discuss the M1 carbine in general before addressing why I consider it an excellent choice for the individual preparing for troubled times. First, let me address the standard criticism of the M1 Carbine: its lack of “stopping power” or poor terminal performance. That is a relative criticism that arose when it was compared with the .30-‘06 Garand. Yes, the .30-‘06 had much better terminal performance than the .30 Carbine round. However, it should be remembered that the M-1 Carbine was meant to replace the 1911/1911A1 pistol rather than the Garand.   

Again, the argument arises that the 230-grain .45 ACP FMJ round had better terminal performance than the 110-grain FMJ M1 Carbine round. That may also be true at close range. But, the M1 Carbine was meant to be a compromise offering more range and a higher hit probability than the .45 Auto and more handiness than the .30-‘06 Garand. Plus, we are not limited to FMJ ammunition today. A lot of savvy Marines in the Pacific ditched the Garand for the Carbine given the chance, as they found its greater cartridge capacity and handiness desirable in the jungle.

m1-carbine-defense-04
The woodstocked M1 Carbine is less threatening in appearance compared to an AR-15 or AK, which can be an advantage in certain situations. A 15-round magazine was standard during World War II and is generally considered more reliable than the later 30-round design. (Photo by Ashley Jaderborg)

For me “handiness” has always been an important descriptor of the M1 Carbine. During WWII, its semi-auto action and 15-round 
magazine capacity gave GIs an important edge. As initially issued, the M1 Carbine had a flip-up rear sight, cross bolt safety, and no bayonet lug (a fighting knife being issued instead). As feedback reached the Ordnance Department, changes were made. Click adjustable rear sights were added allowing more effective engagement at longer ranges. Because the cross-bolt safety was located just behind the button mag release, inadvertent dropping of the magazine or pushing the safety often occurred. A lever safety replaced the cross-bolt. Finally, to allow the use of a bayonet in close combat, a bayonet lug was added and the M4 bayonet was adopted to replace the M3 Trench Knife. They were basically the same but with a bayonet mount on the M4.

m1-carbine-defense-03
While the terminal performance of the .30 Carbine cartridge is less than the M1 rifle’s .30-’06, modern defensive expanding loads make it very effective.

M1 Carbines produced later in WWII had the latter features, as did M1 Carbines refurbished and upgraded after the War. Note that post WWII upgrades often included a strengthened magazine catch to allow use of 30-round magazines. Early production M1 Carbines with the early features are more valuable from a collector’s standpoint, but I consider the later features more useful and a better choice for an M1 Carbine intended for use. I should also mention the M1A1 folding stock carbine developed for airborne troops.  With stock folded it is extremely handy and looks “high speed,” but the fixed stock version is easier to shoot accurately.

So, why do I consider the M1 Carbine such a fine choice for preparedness? First, it’s the “un-AR-15.” While the AR-15 is deemed an evil military-style assault weapon by the ignorant, the M1 carbine is a collectible reminder of our fathers and grandfathers of the “Greatest Generation” who went off to defend democracy. It doesn’t have one of those suspicious pistol grips, nor one of those leering flash hiders. It uses a retro wooden stock and forearm and doesn’t have an “evil eye” red dot sight. It isn’t a “ghost gun,” though it was intended to create a lot of Japanese, German, Italian, North Korean, and Chicom ghosts! My point is: the M1 Carbine is not “evil”; it’s all-American and historic.

One disadvantage of the M1 Carbine vis-à-vis the AR-15 is ammunition availability. Despite COVID ammo shortages, 5.56x45mm ammo is fairly easy to obtain. I grew up when surplus M1 Carbine ammo was readily available, but now that is not the case. Hence, if choosing the M1 Carbine, it will be necessary to lay in a supply. .30 Carbine ammo is available in bulk for .50-.60 cents a round. One note on surplus M1 carbine ammo; surplus cans of M1 Carbine ammo may still be found. To the best of my knowledge, all .30 Carbine ammo is non-corrosive except a batch of French ammo that was imported post-Indo China War: 
“attention aux Francais!”  

m1-carbine-defense-05
The M1 Carbine is chambered for an odd .30 caliber cartridge which was originally loaded with a 110-grain FMJ projectile driven at about 1,950 fps.

I’ve mentioned that I would recommend the upgraded version of the M1 Carbine. For preparedness, this is especially important because of the ability to mount a bayonet. In many situations, the presence of a mounted bayonet will preclude to need to shoot someone. Pointy objects have a visceral effect on most people and encourage them to back away. As a plus, the M4 bayonet makes a pretty good combat/utility knife. Another real plus from my point of view is the ease of slipping a double magazine pouch over the stock of the Carbine. With a 15-round magazine in the gun, this gives 45 ready rounds without having to carry any other mag pouches. This makes the M1 Carbine a great grab and go gun. Since my gun is reinforced for the 30-round magazine, I sometimes carry a 30-round magazine in the carbine and two 15-rounds ones on the stock. However, the longer magazine is more prone to bang or catch while exiting a vehicle or rushing through a door. Also, a proper sling for the Carbine is a must, so it can be carried with both hands free if needed.

Another consideration for the M1 Carbine for preparedness is that it is relatively easy to maintain. I would recommend having a spare parts kit or two and the necessary tools. Fulton Armory offers a standard spare parts kit that will cover most potential issues for $119.95.  It consists of:

  • recoil spring
  • extractor
  • extractor spring & plunger
  • ejector with spring
  • firing pin
  • sear spring
  • sear (for M1, not select fire M2)
  • trigger-spring
  • trigger pin
  • trigger housing pin
  • hammer (M1)
  • hammer spring
  • hammer pin

Purchasing additional springs, especially the recoil spring, is also suggested if using the M1 Carbine for a hard-times weapon. I would also recommend having at least six, and preferably 10, 15-round magazines and possibly a couple of 30-round magazines. Note, though, that the 30-round magazines do not have the reputation for reliability had by the 15-round GI magazines. My experience has been that many aftermarket magazines are not reliable so I would suggest paying more for GI magazines, many of which may still be found for sale in the original packing. Of the non-GI M1 Carbine magazines, some Korean imports are reportedly the best.

Although .30 Carbine FMJ GI ammunition has traditionally been stockpiled by M1 Carbine enthusiasts; that is because it was available. Today, a wide variety of M1 Carbine ammo that is more deadly for self-defense or hunting is available. Among the companies producing higher performance ammo are: Federal Power-Shok, Hornady Critical Defense, Winchester Super-X, and others. Lacking easy access to GI surplus, currently less expensive FMJ .30 Carbine ammo is available from Sellier & Bellot, PRVI Partizan, Remington, UMC, and Aguila among others.

Recommended


m1-carbine-defense-07
A standard GI carbine, like this one from Royal Tiger Imports, is mild recoiling, fairly accurate and easy to hit with inside 200 yards. (Photo by Ashley Jaderborg)

Although the M1 Carbine is handy, many will still supplement it with a handgun. At one point I purchased an AMT AutoMag III in .30 Carbine as a companion to my .30 Carbine. I liked the fact that both took the same cartridge, but the AutoMag III was a relatively large handgun defeating the purpose of having a concealable weapon along with the Carbine. Today, my companion to my M1 carbine is a Browning High-Power.   

Also available today for those who don’t want a surplus carbine are new versions. I’ve tried ones from Auto-Ordnance, which performed well. I like the fact that A-O offers an M1A1 version, as surplus M1A1 Carbines are priced prohibitively. Although the folder is harder to shoot well, it can be readily carried in a backpack.  

Do not interpret what I have written as a dislike of the AR-15. I own high quality M4 carbines with ACOGs and other enhancements. I like them a lot, especially my FN15 Military Collector. I also own a Steyr Scout Rifle, which is the preparedness rifle I take with me when traveling in some parts of the country. My fondness for the M1 Carbine is, admittedly, somewhat nostalgic as I’ve had one for 50+ years; but it is also practical.

There are times and places where being prepared to defend yourself means being ready, but not being obtrusive. Here in St. Louis where I live, the McCloskeys had that point driven home when their AR-15 was too prominently displayed to protestors. M1 Carbines are not the vilified AR-15. Having one leaning inside your door under a picture of your father, grandfather, uncle, etc. in WWII uniform is a reminder of a beloved relative, but a reminder with a 15-round magazine and a bayonet!

m1-carbine-defense-08
This 50-yard group shows that the M1 carbine may be fired with good accuracy.

M1 Carbine Specs

  • Action: Gas-operated, short-stroke, turning bolt, semi-auto
  • Caliber: .30 U.S. Carbine
  • Overall Length: 35.6 in. 
  • Barrel Length: 17.75 in. 
  • Weight: 5.8 lbs., loaded w/sling
  • Magazine Capacity: 15 rds., later 30 rds. 
  • Sights: Rear - Originally flip-up aperture, Later - adjustable peep; Front - wing-protected post

The article was originally posted in Be Ready! magazine. You can purchase an original copy at OSGnewsstand.com. If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.




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